Well, we’re heading towards the end of 2021 and in a few weeks we’ll be into Rocky’s Gaming Advent Calendar. For the next four Sunday’s I thought I’d do something a little different and talk about some of my favourite games from the third generation right up to the sixth generation of gaming. I may even do the seventh and eight generations in 2022 but I did cover some great games from the eight generation in my post “The End of A Generation”. I will only cover consoles I’ve owned and games that I’ve played, so there won’t be any Atari, personal computers or consoles like the 3DO. I felt it only fair to cover what I’ve actually experienced. Some of these games I haven’t cleared yet and that’s why they don’t appear in the Rocky’s Reviews section. Others I’ve really enjoyed but when trying to review the game, I’ve tried to be a bit more objective. For a series, I will list the series as a whole rather than each game individually. I don’t want have the lists taken up with Final Fantasy, Super Mario Bros., Metal Gear Solid, etc. I’ve also excluded handhelds as I just wanted to focus on the home consoles for now. I may do a separate handheld version of this.
Without further ado, let’s talk about the Third Generation of console gaming. Depending on where you lived, you may have experienced this generation a little differently. Those in North America and Japan may have fond memories of the Nintendo Entertainment System and the great games it brought with it. Those in Europe, Australia and South America may be fonder of the Sega Master System with its excellent library. This was the era of 8-bit graphics and it began in 1983 with the launch of the Nintendo Family Computer in Japan. Before the end of the decade, Nintendo and Sega would stretch across the globe, bringing with it a unique experience and a constant rivalry that would continue into the future.
Sega Master System
I think it’s only fair for me to start with the first gaming console I ever had, the Sega Master System. Released in Europe in 1987, the console would see great success here. It would also be revised with the Master System II arriving in 1990. This revision would make the console smaller but removed the cart reader as well as the RGB output on the back, leaving us with only RF output. I got this console one Christmas in the early 90s and I adored its colourful graphics, excellent sound quality and large availability of games to rent in my local store. My Sega Master System II would come with Alex Kidd in Miracle World built in but I also got Back to the Future Part II and some Formula One game. It’s been so long ago, I can’t remember much of it. I don’t even know what happened to my original system but I did get another not so long ago with over 30 games. It’s a system I haven’t put as much time into as I’d like but hopefully I’ll get it RGB modded soon and I can dive back into it.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World
I think the first game on my list should be the first game I ever played: Alex Kidd in Miracle World. I know it was mentioned in last week’s post but, well, I want to mention it again. Released in 1987 in Europe, it starred Alex Kidd, who would go on to be one of Sega’s early mascots. The game is a platformer where you’ll traverse across the Kingdom, both on foot and in vehicles, in order to defeat the evil Janken the Great. The game’s visuals really pop off the screen, even to this day. It has a robust and colourful pallet, accompanied by great music. Although early days in video game sound chips, it made full use of what was available to bring us some of the catchiest tunes of the generation. Its gameplay was solid, even if the Master System’s controller could have been better. The game starts off with you moving vertically through the level before dropping into the water and then moving horizontally across to the exit. I loved this seamless transition between the two areas and it wouldn’t be the last time it would happen. The next level contained a shop where you could buy a power ring or a motor bike. The motor bike was exhilarating. There were levels that contained a helicopter too that if destroyed, would drop you into the water below. I have fond memories of playing this on my parents CRT (I didn’t have my own back then) in either their bedroom or the sitting room. I never really got far in it but that didn’t stop me from trying. Alex Kidd would feature in more games on the Master System and Mega Drive but I haven’t really played them. When Alex Kidd in Miracle World ended up on the PlayStation 3 store, I snapped it up again so I could enjoy it once more. It has gotten a remake in the form of Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX, which allows you to switch between modern and retro graphics, as well as giving you new levels to explore. It was a great game that I mostly loved, except for the Janken bosses, they can get in the sea…
Sonic the Hedgehog
Sonic the Hedgehog had three outings on the Sega Master System after his initial outing on the Mega Drive. Sonic the Hedgehog would arrive in 1991 and would eventually come built into the console, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 would arrive in 1992 and Sonic Chaos would follow in 1993. The first game would be slower than its 16-bit counter-part but featured unique levels to traverse. The Master System version also allowed players to see more of the screen than its Game Gear port. The game is challenging compared to its 16-bit brother but its great presentation and excellent music keep you entranced. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was one I remember renting as a child. I adored Sonic and when I saw he had a game on the console I owned, I had to play it. It improves on the first one immensely, with better graphics, quicker speeds and a wonderful score. For many, this is their favourite Sonic game has it has the right balance of challenge. For me, I love it most of the time but I still can’t get used to the glider sections. Even now, I feel like all I’m doing is mashing buttons and hoping for the best. Sonic Chaos was originally a Game Gear game but did receive a Master System port in PAL territories. It’s quick, energetic and addictive but short and you’ll find yourself at the end very quickly unless you’re looking for all the Chaos Emeralds. This one did allow us to play as Tails as Sonic the Hedgehog 2 merely had us rescuing the fox. Tails does control differently from Sonic, meaning you’ll have to approach levels a little differently. This was one I didn’t know existed until I got my second Master System. Someone mentioned it one day to me on Twitter and I decided to source a copy for myself. Luckily, Master System games weren’t expensive at the time so I managed to nab it. It’s a great game that’s on the easier side of the Master System trilogy but a must have for Master System collectors.
Jurassic Park on many consoles didn’t have much luck. Both the NES and SNES versions were a let down and The Lost World on PlayStation wasn’t exactly spectacular. As a Jurassic Park fan (and a dino nerd) this was a little disappointing especially since I had the SNES version. The Mega Drive games were supposed to be great but the closest I ever got to them was watching them on Movies, Games and Videos on ITV. When I got my second Master System, one of the games that came with it was Jurassic Park. Released in 1993, you took control of Alan Grant as the park falls apart around him. The game features a combination of platforming and driving stages, with the first four levels playable in any order. The fifth and final level would be unlocked after completing the previous four. It wasn’t a long game and it wasn’t the hardest game on the system but it was an enjoyable experience. I liked its gameplay and its great graphics, especially as the scene transitions when the forest catches on fire. It’s not the greatest game ever but it’s a fun distraction for a Sunday afternoon that any Master System fan would enjoy.
Wonder Boy had four releases on the Master System, the original Wonder Boy in 1987, Wonder Boy in Monster Land in 1988, Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap in 1989 and Wonder Boy in Monster World in 1993. The original Wonder Boy was an arcade release that saw you sprinting from one end of the level to the other, avoiding enemies and eating food to maintain his vitality. You can also find and axe or a skateboard hidden in eggs to help you through the levels. If this all sounds familiar, its because Hudson Soft would adapt it as Adventure Island. The game’s graphics are colourful but incredibly basic, especially compared to what would come later. It’s a fast-paced action game that doesn’t stray too far from its arcade origins. Wonder Boy in Monster Land would mix things up, taking place in a medieval setting rather than a cave-man one. Here, you can explore the land, visit shops and use gold to purchase items. Wonder Boy has a health bar now, giving you a little more leeway than its predecessor. It’s 2D side scrolling world with a beautiful setting. The graphics are much more detailed than the first game and its inventive level design keeps you coming back for more. Wonder Boy III was the last in the series to see a Master System release first. The game maintains the same structure of the second one, with an open world for you to explore and items to acquire. This time, you can now transform into a variety of animals to help with your adventure. You start the game as Lizard-man but will acquire new forms throughout your adventure. This is the most refined of the original trilogy, with Westone really nailing the formula. The final entry, Wonder Boy in Monster World, was a port of the Mega Drive game. While not as graphically impressive as its 16-bit cousin, the Master System does a great job of bringing this adventure to 8-bit machines. Sadly, some of the levels are missing and others are shorter. The save feature from the Mega Drive version is missing, replaced with a password system. Still, taking a 16-bit classic and turning it into a unique 8-bit one was something the Master System regularly pulled off.
Nintendo Entertainment System
For my American readers (do I even have any American readers? If so, hi), this is most likely the system you had growing up and the one you probably have the fondest memories. Often credited with saving the North American video game market, the Nintendo Entertainment System was a powerhouse. I was late to the NES (very late) but I did enjoy playing it with a friend. When I finally did get my own NES, Sharon bought it for me from the R.A.G.E. in Dublin for Christmas, long before the prices went crazy. I have since gotten an RGB modded console so I can play games in glorious RGB through my OSSC. I really like the NES but the games are quite a challenge and I haven’t really been able to devout myself to mastering them just yet.
Super Mario Bros.
Let’s just get the most obvious one out of the way first. Super Mario Bros. saw three releases on the NES, Super Mario Bros. (1985), Super Mario Bros. 2 (1988) and Super Mario Bros. 3 (1988). There was also the original Super Mario Bros. 2 which was released in Japan but wouldn’t see a Western release until Super Mario All-stars on the SNES, where it was retitled Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels. The original Super Mario Bros. was a cultural phenomenon. I remember visiting a friend and trying to blast through it with him. It was easy to pick up and play but challenging at the same time, especially the later levels. It’s colourful graphics and catchy music were great for the time but they didn’t really show what the NES was capable of. I still love playing this one today due to its easy to drop in and out of gameplay. Super Mario Bros. 2 would change things up. While the first game focused on horizontal scrolling, this one focused on vertical scrolling. This is demonstrated in the first level where you are literally dropped into the world. The familiar enemies of the first game are gone, replaced with a new cast of baddies but now you can pick them up and throw them at each other! It’s graphics and sound were a step up on the first game, with much more varied levels to explore and shortcuts to discover. The pièce de resistance of the Super Mario Bros. trilogy would come with its third entry. Super Mario Bros. 3 pushed the limits of the NES to deliver a fantastic adventure through the Mushroom Kingdom. The levels are bigger, the Worlds are unique and the battleships are magnificent. The game showed us what a platformer could do on the system, with Mario getting new power-ups, new villains and unique level designs. All three would eventually make their way to the SNES in the Super Mario All-stars collection but they made some tweaks to each so if you want to experience them the way they were originally designed, the NES versions are the way to go.
The Legend of Zelda
This isn’t a reference to both Zelda games on the NES, just the original one. Released in 1986, The Legend of Zelda was a wonderful adventure game, stuffed with unique enemies, dungeons and items to acquire. You star as Link as he sets out to stop the evil Ganon and rescue Princess Zelda. The game plays from a top-down view but controls incredibly well. Link glides across the screen with ease and combat is fun. The graphics are impressive for the time and the music is simply a masterpiece. The cartridge came with a battery so you could save your progress and it was desperately needed because this game was huge. It also contained cryptic puzzles that provided a challenge at the time but in the age of the internet don’t hold the same mystery. Complete the main game and you’ll unlock a second quest. It was a smash hit and created the foundations for one of Nintendo’s most successful franchises ever. To date, this is the only Legend of Zelda title I’ve finished. I remember sitting in the dark in my parent’s house one Christmas, slowly progressing through the game before scrapping a victory from Ganon. It was a unique feeling that I’ll have to revisit again someday.
There are some games out there that you know are going to be instant classics from the first screen and Konami’s 1986 Castlevania is one of them. A game all about challenge and precise platforming, you are cast into the shoes of Simon Belmont as he sets out to defeat Dracula. There ya go, that’s all the plot you’re getting. Along the way, you’ll battle giant bats, Medusa heads, Mummies and Death himself to reach Dracula’s tower. It would launch one of Konami’s most successful series, seeing new releases on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 as well as remasters on modern systems. The first Castlevania game is the only one from the original trilogy that I’ve played. I haven’t finished it but I did once make it to Dracula after a lot of trial and error before he destroyed me. The game strikes a fine balance in difficulty, never really feeling frustrating but it is rewarding when you do succeed. The game allows you unlimited continues to keep you trying, something I definitely made use of. The controls are precise and they have to be as one mistimed jump can lead to death. There are some annoying moments, especially when the Medusa heads are involved. It’s a game I’d love to revisit someday as I really enjoyed my time with it. The unique stage layout, drab colours and banging soundtrack is a joy to behold. That soundtrack really is incredible.
“Every day they’re out there making DuckTales! Woo-oo!” Now that I’ve successfully managed to get that stuck in your head, let’s talk about one of Capcom’s finest platformers ever, DuckTales. Released in 1989 as part of a licensing deal with Disney, DuckTales sees you join Scrooge McDuck on an adventure across Transylvania, the Amazon and the Moon in order to outdo Flintheart Glomgold. Its gameplay is easy to pick up and incredibly addictive. Scrooge controls incredibly well and his pogo stick hop is easy to pull off. The game is structured in a way that you’ll be revisiting levels to unlock new areas and this helps to expand its longevity. It never feels like a chore. The graphics are bright and colourful, something gamers game to expect from Capcom on the NES. The music is simply out of this world, from the main theme on the title screen to the Moon soundtrack. Fun fact, the Moon soundtrack made an appearance in the 2017 animated series. I bought this game at the London Gaming Market. I wanted to bolster my NES collection and what better way than adding a highly recommend game to it. I instantly fell in love with its gameplay, graphics and level design. I haven’t finished it just yet but I will one day. I also managed to pick up DuckTales 2 on the NES and DuckTales: Remastered on the PlayStation 3.
Konami’s Bucky O’Hare on the NES would arrive in 1992. Based on the children’s television show of the same name, players controlled Bucky as he attempted to rescue his crewmates. Once rescued, they could be used in game. Each character had their own unique ability that could be powered up by collecting tokens. The game starts off with four levels available to select from. Once these are completed, you move on to the last few stages in a linear fashion. Sounds familiar. The graphics have a certain charm to them, with Bucky and co being well detailed. The music is good but not something you’ll remember long after turning the game off. I bought this one years ago for £10 but unfortunately the price has shot up so anyone who wants to experience this classic is probably best emulating it. I haven’t finished it (a common occurrence for the NES) but I did make it to the final few stages before having to switch it off to fly back to London. It’s not a terribly long game but it is enjoyable. It’s certainly not the steepest challenge on the NES but it is an absolute classic. It’s probably one that’s flown under a lot of people’s radars but if you have the chance, I’d definitely recommend you give it a bash.
There are banging soundtracks and then there’s Mega Man. Most gamers have probably heard some of the blue bomber’s legendary tracks, most likely from Mega Man 2. Of course, there’s more to these games than just the music. The NES saw six Mega Man games released between 1987 and 1993, with Mega Man taking on new Robot Masters and gaining new powers in each one. Despite having all six, I’ve only played the first three so these will be what I’ll be focusing on. Mega Man made his debut in 1987 and faced off against six Robot Masters. Here, you could select any of the Six Robot Masters’ levels from the start but there was an element of strategy to it. Some Robot Master abilities were stronger against other Robot Masters. Each level had its own theme based on the boss, for example Fire Man’s stage would have flames dotted throughout the level and the background was red. Defeat these six levels and you’d go to Dr. Wily’s Castle. This would be the foundation for every Mega Man going forward. Mega Man 2 would debut in 1988 and improved on everything. The music was better, the graphics looked crisper, Mega Man’s controls were tightened and there were eight new Robot Masters to defeat. Again, these gave unique abilities that could be used against one another. Mega Man 2 is often cited as the best of the NES six and it’s easy to see why. In 1990, Mega Man 3 would appear on store shelves. It kept a lot of the tropes from the earlier games but introduced a new slide move. This could be used to dodge attacks and slide under barriers. The game looked great but the difficulty was taken up a notch. I enjoyed the three games I played. While challenging, I never felt frustrated and always wanted to play more of them. One day I hope to do a run through of Mega Man 1-11, I just need to track down Mega Man 8 first…
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Man, I’m really getting all the classic kids shows stuck in your head now. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had three games released on the NES. The first game, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989), was a single-player platformer. Here, you could switch between the Turtles whenever you liked. This was important as each had their own life bar and using this could save you from losing a turtle. The premise is simple, defeat the Shredder. The game features some enemies from the television series but there are a lot of generic ones thrown in. It’s also quite challenging, with even just getting to the Technodrome being an odyssey. It can be rewarding in places, especially when you over come a tough section. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (1990) was a port of the 1989 arcade game (well duh). Here, the formula was changed to a beat’em up. Two players could play together, controlling one of the four Turtles. Each had their own stats, for example Donatello had a longer reach. The beat’em up style suited the Turtles well and it would become the default style going forward. The NES version of TMNT II added in an extra level as well to keep players hooked. In 1991 Japan would get Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project, with the US release following a year later. We never got it in PAL territories (boo!). The game follows the style of TMNT II but isn’t based on an arcade machine. Instead, players were treated to a new adventure. Like its predecessor, it features plenty of enemies from the TV show to battle with. TMNT II may be a lot of people’s favourite in the NES Trilogy but I think the third game gives it a run for its money. The two beat’em up games are well worth a try.
I hope you enjoyed some of my favourite games from the Third Generation. I know that there were more NES games than Master System games and this is something that will happen in other posts too. It comes down to my experiences with the machine but also how many games I have for each system. For example I have 67 games for the NES and 45 for the Master System. The gap isn’t big but when we get to the Fifth Generation, it really will widen.
What are some of your favourite games from the Third Generation of gaming? What would you recommend I try?